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The police are there to maintain law and order, so law-abiding people should see them positively. In the past, this has been my impression too. But that was before I returned to Victoria in Australia. Here I feel persecuted.

One example of this started when my wife Yvonne was caught driving faster than the law allows on 16 December 2011. She was on an almost empty open road, and the police officer who stopped her told her she had been doing 122 km/h. That's not much, but it's 22 more than is allowed, so he told her to wait for an infringement notice.

In brief: the policeman copied the address on the driver's license incorrectly: instead of Dereel, the town was stated as Enfield, about 10 km away. As a result, the infringement notice never got delivered. The first we heard was when a reminder arrived, still incorrectly addressed. Clearly the postman recognized the error and delivered the letter.

But that reminder included a $22 penalty for late payment. After much time on the telephone, Yvonne had to make a written application to have the costs revoked. So we did that, and again didn't hear anything for over a month. When it arrived, it was an enforcement order, still addressed to Enfield, and including total costs of $95.40. It transpired that the application had been accepted, but the reply had also been sent to Enfield. And once again we had to apply to have the charges revoked.

The reply blew my mind. Application rejected. The police has demonstrably make two serious blunders, but the Infringements registrar is not satisfied that there are sufficient grounds. That sounds like the third blunder. And this time we need to go to court to get it revoked.

Or did we? Despite all the written statements, I was told on the phone that I should make another application. I did that, and got a letter back that was so ambiguous that I couldn't make much sense of it:


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Diary entry for Wednesday, 11 July 2012

 

While we were thinking that one over, another letter arrived, apparently from Sydney. It was a refund.

So, after 7 months, we finally got the police to do what they should have done from the start. But at every step we were confronted with boundless incompetence. Even the letter above was meaningless. Who would have thought that this meant, in English, “your application has been accepted”? The experience has profoundly weakened my trust in Victorian authorities.

The details

The following is a more detailed version, paraphrased from my diary.

Time went by, and no infringement notice came. Then on 16 February 2012 a reminder arrived. Based on the address, it should never have got here:


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Diary entry for Thursday, 16 February 2012

 

Enfield? We live in Dereel. Yes, there's a hamlet called Enfield 10 km away, but what does that have to do with us?

How can that happen? Apart from a really draconian fine, they want to put 3 demerit points in her driver license. And for that they need (and have) details of her driver license, where the address is almost correct:


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Diary entry for Thursday, 16 February 2012

 

And there, again, the address is wrong! The house number is 47. These details are important. How can the authorities make this kind of mistake not once, but twice? This kind of incompetence stands out from minor lapses keeping to an imposed speed limit inappropriate to the road conditions. In this case, though, Yvonne reported the error long ago, and they put a sticker with the correct address on the other side.

Things wouldn't be so bad, except that they wanted $20 more to pay for the delay caused by their incompetence. Yvonne called them up and was told to write a letter explaining the problem. Given the fact that they had all the evidence in front of them (address to which the summons was sent, address on the driver license). But no, Yvonne had to write a letter. She did so, handwritten, with the request that they drop the excess charges (which still seems to be a matter that they can decline), and asked for an explanation about how this could happen in the first place. I didn't have much expectation that she'll get that—but why shouldn't she? The authorities are supposed to be for the public good, so they should be accountable.

Again nothing happened. Finally, on 10 April 2012, another document arrived:


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Diary entry for Tuesday, 10 April 2012

   
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Not a reply at all, an enforcement order, threatening dire consequences, including breach of grammar, if we ignore it:

What happens if you ignore the Enforcement Order?

If you live in Victoria, an infringement warrant will be issued to the Sheriff to seize and sell your goods or to imprison you, additional costs will be incurred.

You would have thought that for such an important step, they would have checked all details. But no, the address is still wrong. Again, it's pure chance that we received the notice. I wonder what would have happened if this document hadn't arrived. Presumably the sheriff (I thought that was something American) would have headed off to Enfield vainly looking for a Kleins Road. What would he have done then? Come here on the off chance, seize all our goods and throw Yvonne into jail? Somewhere there had to be some sense.

Yvonne didn't want to deal with the authorities, so I called up the number they gave me, 1800 150 410, and went through the voice menu. “Challenge an Enforcement Order” was number 4, so I pressed that. “To challenge an Enforcement Order, fill out the form or go to the Internet and do it there. Click”.

Tried the other number they had given me, (03) 9200 8222, and got the same menu. But this time I listened longer and got 5, “all other queries”. Did that and was connected with somebody who finally spelt out her name as “Jaz”, who first wanted Yvonne's authority to talk to me. That's OK, but it was only necessary because I was clearly of a different gender. That only excludes 50% of the people in the country. Many others could have claimed to be Yvonne. She came to the phone, was asked her name, date of birth, address and phone number. She gave all that, along with authority for them to talk to me, and was accepted.

I've rantedcomplained about the stupidity of this form of authentication in the past. But this time it was worse. Jaz asked me what the problem was, and I said that things had been sent to the wrong address. “How could I know that?”. How, indeed? She accepted the correct address for authentication, but didn't see a conflict in the incorrect address on the enforcement order. I suggested that she should check the information in the driver license (thus Victorian terminology). She told me that she had no access to the information in the driving license (her usage)! It seems that they accept the information that the police fill out without question.

That raises the question, of course, as to whether Yvonne really was doing 122 km/h when caught. If the policeman had accidentally written 212 km/h it would have been noticed, of course. But what if she had been doing 106 and he had written 160? It's probably not worth contesting: the policeman will appear in court, swear (after checking his records) that it was 122 km/h, and that the driver license showed “Enfield” at the time he checked it, the fine will be upheld, and we will have even more costs.

But what happened to the letter Yvonne wrote? Annoyingly, I couldn't find a copy, though I was sure I made one at the time. But that's OK: they confirmed that they received the letter on 29 February 2012 and replied on 1 March 2012 repealing the surcharge and giving until  29 March 2012 to pay the fine—and then sent it to the wrong address! Or at least, that's what it looked like. Jaz told me that we had to submit a written request to fix things. We've done that, and look at how much help that was. Asked to speak to a supervisor—it's amazing how often that helps—and was put on hold for a while.

Then she came back and told me that Natasha, her supervisor, was checking with some other department, and that she would call me back. She did, too, after about 1½ hours, and confirmed that the reply to the previous letter had been sent to the wrong address. She was helpful and explained that there was really no way past filling out the Application for Revocation. She promised to send me a new form to the correct address, so that there was some record of it there. She then spent a good 15 minutes telling me how to fill it out. That was necessary, too: I would have filled it out quite differently otherwise.

In particular, it seems that the courts take up to three weeks to even look at these applications, during which time the due date remains! The due date here is “03” May: the order was issued on “04” April, and the time it took to get here is probably due to the postal people trying to guess where it belongs. In 3 weeks it will be 1 (or is that “01”?) May, so there's every chance that the due date could be reached before the application is processed. But that's OK: just ring up and apply for an extension, and it will automatically be granted.

OK, it looks as like we might be on the road to recovery. But there are so many things wrong with this scenario:

  1. Fines are processed without even superficial checks such as the relationship between driver license number, name and address.

  2. The phone hotline should have access not only to the fine information (which they do have) but to supporting documents such as driver license information (which they don't).

  3. In a case where things still go obviously wrong due to police errors, people shouldn't be required to put in written applications to have them corrected. That should be possible over the phone based on the information that should be available (in this case the driver license info).

  4. There's something seriously wrong if the reply to an application for reversal based on incorrect address gets sent back to that same incorrect address. I don't know how this one should be handled, but it clearly shows serious limitations in requiring people to communicate in writing.

  5. Why does the due date remain while the application is being processed? That's ridiculous. And why couldn't Natasha put it on hold now, rather than requiring me to call back in a month?

  6. And of course, not just here, authentication over the phone is a joke. In Yvonne's case, Jaz didn't even notice that the address was different from the one on the enforcement order.

So we've established that the police sent documents to the wrong address not once, but four times, twice after having been made aware of the correct address. And we need to fill out all sorts of paperwork to get them to take off the draconian extra charges on their draconian fine. By contrast, in Germany the fine would have lapsed because notice had not been delivered in time. Somebody suggested that I might have a case to have the fine dismissed here too, which seems to me to be an option if the only evidence of the “crime” was from the police “member” (thus, apparently, the term they use to talk about themselves), who had already discredited himself by writing down an incorrect address. On the other hand, if they had a photo, that wouldn't hold.

So how do I find out? First I called the RACV motoring advice line, something that's not easy to find: the number is (03) 9790 2190. Spoke to Carl, who told me that I would have to contact the Traffic Camera Office.

How do you find the Traffic Camera Office? Simple: Google for traffic camera office victoria and take the first link. The address is:

Officer in Charge
Traffic Camera Office
GPO Box 1916
Melbourne 3001

And that's all. No telephone number. So I rang up the other number on that page, Civic Compliance Victoria at (03) 9200 8111, and was told that they did not have any information on the evidence in the case, and that I should contact (wait for it) the Traffic Camera Office. But at least he had a phone number for it: (03) 9224 4380. So I called up there and was connected to Lynn Marin, who told me I should call Civic Compliance, and that they didn't have any records of such nature.

I explained that what I really wanted to know was whether the had a photo or not, and after a while she connected me to Senior Constable Fiona McLeay, who confirmed that Senior Constable Dowse had replied to Yvonne's letter on 1 March. I asked why it had been sent to the wrong address. She told me that this happens quite frequently (I thought I could hear the “and we're not doing anything about it” in the background), and that it was all the fault of Civic Compliance, because their computers didn't talk to each other.

She was equally unhelpful about the issue in hand: she couldn't tell me if they had any evidence. If I wanted it, I should go to a Magistrate's court. And no, she would not tell me what kind of equipment there was in the police cars, though gradually I managed to weasel it out of her that there was no camera (“it's not digital”, which may or may not be correct), and that the member was responsible for writing down the readings himself in the log book and other documents (“It's an on-the-spot fine”, which she should have known it most definitely was not).

So: I think we have a case. It seems that the only evidence is what the policeman wrote down. We have clear evidence that he was wrong with the address; is that enough to discredit his reading?

If I had still been in Germany, I would have challenged it. Here I hear from all sides that what I'm doing is outside what anybody—even RACV—expects. So I'd have to go to court, and to have even a small chance of winning, I'd need a lawyer. And probably still lose. So we'll probably give in to the Powers That Be. Sometimes I have the feeling that we're still living in the convict era.

So we sent in the application for revocation, attaching a detailed statement. The reply arrived on 15 May 2012:


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Diary entry for Tuesday, 15 May 2012

 
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Diary entry for Tuesday, 15 May 2012

 

The application was rejected because of insufficient grounds! The police have stuffed up twice, causing the extra costs. This looks suspiciously like the third one. What grounds would they deem sufficient? It's enough to shake any remaining confidence in the judicial system. But somehow, through no fault of our own, we're getting deeper and deeper into a mess of the polices' making. And what happened to the principle of In dubio pro re?

Thursday, 31 May 2012

This business with the Victoria Police handling of Yvonne's speeding fine has shocked me so much that it has taken me 2 weeks to do much in the way of following up. But we only have another 3 weeks to object, so it's time to do something.

As last time, I started by calling the RACV motoring advice line on (03) 9790 2190 and spoke to Paul, who was quite amused by the incompetence of the police. I suppose there's a funny side to it. He suggested that I first call the Victorian Ombudsman on (03) 9613 6222. Did that and was connected with Dagmar, who told me that they were not responsible for the police and suggested I contact the Ethical Standards Department on 1300 363 101 or the Office of Police Integrity on 1 800 818 387.

This doesn't really seem to be a question of ethics, so I called the Office of Police Integrity first. That was quick: they don't handle traffic offences. Why not? The recording suggested I contact Civic Compliance Victoria on (03) 9200 8111, so I did, by no means for the first time, and spoke to Claire. This time I got the additional information that in response to Yvonne's letter in February an internal review was denied, whatever that may mean—probably that they didn't think the matter serious enough to worry about. And of course she didn't address the issue of police culpability, and she had no idea why the application for revocation was refused, just suggested that we submit a second application, something that wasn't mentioned in the refusal. She didn't seem to understand that there are two different issues at stake here.

So I called the Ethical Standards Department and spoke to Senior Constable (aren't they all?) Chapman, who told me that this wasn't an ethical issue, and so they couldn't do anything. I asked who could do something, and she suggested the Ombudsman or Civic Compliance. She gave me the email address ethical.standards@police.vic.gov.au, but said “I doubt I'll get the response you're after”. She also didn't seem to understand that there are two different issues at stake here.

So: it really seems that the police can do what they like in this area. They may address the issue of ethics—internally—but not the issue of efficiency at all. I'm reminded of the events that led up to Eureka Stockade. I don't know of any modern Western police force with so little accountability.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

We have until next week to put in another written objection to the nonsensical treatment we have received in the matter of Yvonne's speeding fine. The fine was $244, bad enough in itself, but due to the police's incompetent handling of the matter, they are now asking for demanding $339.40. Clearly we won't get away from paying the $244, but the other $99.40 are completely unwarranted. I would be inclined to pay what we can't get out of, but I had been told that we should not make a partial payment. Called up Civic Compliance Victoria on (03) 9200 8111 and spoke to Mohammed, who had difficulty understanding the issue, but who also told me that I should not make a partial payment, because there would be a sum left over. That was so obvious that I couldn't make sense of his statement. Asked to speak to his supervisor, who was not available, but who would call back. He didn't.

What a pain these people are!

Friday, 15 June 2012

I was still puzzling about the question of partial payment of the speeding fine when Yvonne made it clear: yes, we can object to the decision. No, that doesn't mean that we can wait until a court case before paying. We must pay the $100 excess charges, based on a legal decision kept secret from us and almost certainly due to sloppy examination of the evidence. Are we in a civilized Western society or a totalitarian state which doesn't have to justify itself? I almost get the impression that it's the latter. In any case, I am thoroughly disgusted with the treatment, and my opinion of the Victorian police and legal system has dropped even lower than it already was.

Took the letter of objection to Napoleons post office, where the woman behind the counter didn't know how to accept a registered letter. OK, they're new, and she's just helping out while the postmistress was away. They'll learn; in the meantime posted it at the Sebastopol post office.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A reply to our last complaint about the excess charges for the speeding fine today:


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Diary entry for Wednesday, 11 July 2012

 

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My opinion of the authorities was already at rock bottom, so this couldn't worsen it. But it makes very clear just how incompetent they are. I suspect “there are sufficient grounds to vary the costs” is what we've been getting at all along. But they don't say anything more about it, just as they don't give any reasoning for the rejection. Instead they offer to issue a warrant to claim $0.00 from me. I didn't think that sort of thing still really happened.

How do I react? We'll have to go to court to get the fees back. But should I react to the letter? On IRC, Edwin Groothuis suggested I should call up and refuse to pay, Peter Jeremy thought a cheque for the value demanded would be a good idea, and Callum Gibson suggested I ask for extra time to pay. Personally I thought of calling up and saying that bPay refused to process the transaction. But all these approaches have the disadvantage that whoever I contact, though he or she may fail the Turing test, might understand that I'm making fun of the system and have absolutely no sense of humour. But what a system! We still feel persecuted, and Yvonne even talked of returning to South Australia.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A couple of days ago I noticed a strange thing about last week's letter from Victoria Police: although it stated that the application had been refused, and that Yvonne should pay $0.00 or face the prospect of them issuing a warrant, the heading (conveniently separated from the message by a number of case references) read VARIATION OF COSTS ALLOWED. What does that mean? What did the letter mean at all? I had been meaning to call them once I got my resolve together, but today another letter arrived. On the face of it, it had nothing to do with Victoria:


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But, to my amazement, it was not only from the “Department of Justice” of some unspecified entity, and it included a cheque for the disputed $95.40.


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So, finally, we have what we wanted.

But why this extreme stupidity? I discussed last week's letter with a number of people, many of whom came up with some fanciful ideas about what to do next, but none of whom thought that the application had been rejected. On the contrary, the only reference to the application (incorrectly qualified with “to revoke this Court Order”) stated that it had been refused. “Sufficient grounds to vary the costs” is such a nebulous term that it's almost meaningless, though it did suggest to me that something had been accepted. On the other hand, there's a demand to pay $0.00 or face the prospect of having a warrant issued. At least that indicated that the variation was not to increase the costs. The whole form of the letter is tantamount to illiteracy.

In many ways, though, it's also related to the inability to communicate of people in the Microsoft space. Consider this hypothetical mail message and reply:

> I am prepared to pay the original infringement penalty of $244.  I ask you to waive the remaining
> fees.

Your application to revoke the Court Order has been refused by the Infringements Registrar.

Once again I get the impression that they don't read carefully enough, or they don't have the intelligence to understand the content. But the demand for payment of $0.00 suggests that their computer people are no better.


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